A group of 40 scientists from different countries, chosen specifically by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were in Ronda for their annual meeting this week. They are trying to end hunger in Africa by studying ways to prevent whitefly spreading viruses to different plants and causing repeated famines.
Among the group were a team from La Mayora Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture (IHSM), which was created by Malaga University and the Senior Scientific Research Committee (CSIC).
The Malaga representatives were doctors Jesús Navas and Elvira Fiallo, technician Remedios Tovar and Tanzanian student Happyness Mollel.
To carry out this project, which is called Cassava Whitefly, the scientists were given a grant of 17 million dollars from the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich in the UK, which had been provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The NRI is leading the project, but researchers from many other countries are also taking part.
La Mayora has been carrying out research into whitefly and the virus it transmits for 20 years; the insect affects many vegetables and fruits in Spain, including tomatoes, peppers, melon and green beans, among others.
The whitefly of the African yucca transmits many viruses to plants, some of which have caused devastating pandemics in East Africa. The numbers of whitefly have increased to an unprecedented level, and they are also spreading rapidly towards West Africa.
The Cassava Whitefly project began in October 2014 and will end in October 2018. The progress made so far, and the importance of the problem, means it is likely that the Foundation will finance a second phase, from 2018 to 2022, with the aim of being able to apply the knowledge which has been gained and design effective and longlasting methods of controlling the plagues of whitefly.